FCA expands work in Ukraine closer to the front line
Education rehabilitation work begins in Kharkiv, in addition to ongoing projects in northern Ukraine and Kyiv region.
FCA UKRAINE is expanding to Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, which has suffered serious damage during the Russian invasion. FCA’s education work in Ukraine, which began in 2022, has up to now been focused on Chernihiv and Zhytomyr in northern Ukraine and the region of the capital, Kyiv.
In Kharkiv, FCA plans to rehabilitate schools damaged during the war, equip bomb shelters and invest in psychosocial support for schoolchildren and teachers.
“Expanding our work to Kharkiv is a big step. It means that in the future we will be working closer to the front line of the war and in an area that was liberated only a few months ago,” says Patricia Maruschak, country manager for Ukraine.
In Kharkiv, teaching still takes place remotely, as face-to-face teaching is still considered too dangerous due to ongoing conflict. However, FCA’s work is already looking to the future.
“We want to make sure that the school’s bomb shelters are equipped and functional when the schools are able to open their doors again for classroom teaching,” explains Maruschak.
Psychosocial support for schoolchildren and teachers
The expansion to Kharkiv is part of an EU-funded training project, which also includes FCA’s partner organisations Save the Children International, People in Need, and War Child Holland.
The first schools renovated with EU funds are already in operation in Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. In two schools damaged during bombing, windows were replaced and interior damage repaired. As a result, 1,500 pupils have been able to return to education. At the beginning of summer, more school repairs will be completed.
FCA’s education work goes further than physical repairs, however. Our projects emphasise caring for the mental resilience of Ukrainians in often difficult situations, where children have had to leave their homes, family members are at the front, or loved ones have died. In Chernihiv, FCA has organised psychosocial support activities and training for schoolchildren and teachers. Similar work will go ahead in Kharkiv as well.
Foundation’s donation secures the learning of kindergarten students
FCA has also supported Ukrainian educational institutions in purchasing equipment to assist classroom learning. At the end of April, with the support of the Pirkko and Tarmo Vahvelaisen Foundation, FCA gave electronic tablets to three kindergartens in the Kyiv region. An educational application was pre-installed on the tablets, specially developed for children under the age of 6 in kindergartens with age-appropriate tasks for learning.
The tablet with its applications contains more than 1,800 different tasks and games, which allow young children to study both with kindergarten staff and at home with their families. The app also works offline, so learning can continue even during an air raid in a bomb shelter.
Emergency aid is for the direst of situations. When a sudden natural disaster strikes or a country enters a protracted crisis, lives can be protected and human dignity preserved through global cooperation between organisations.
1. Emergency aid is a lifesaver.
When a disaster strikes, rapid aid delivery is often a literal matter of life and death. In line with the principles of humanitarianism, emergency aid is intended for those who need it the most, its purpose saving lives and preserving human dignity. In most cases, aid consists of water, food, shelter, and medicines – the basic necesssities. Education can save lives too and is thus at the heart of what FCA does.
2. Locations are selected based on the situation and the need.
The need for emergency aid may arise suddenly or result from a protracted crisis. Whatever the case, the local organizations and those international organizations already on the ground will endeavour to supply aid as rapidly as they can. The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordination Agency (OCHA) monitors the global situation and maps out potential cases, allowing the international community to correctly locate find situations and people who need aid, and schedule the aid correctly. In case of natural disasters, for example, comprehensive assessment is usually completed within weeks. The plan of action always evolves with the situation, however.
3. Aid comes in many forms.
The above assessment can determine the most acute requirements for aid and the most appropriate ways to provide it. When a functioning market continues to exist in the disaster area, for example, cash grants are better and more cost-effective than goods. If no market exists, though, direct donations of goods may be necessary. We always endeavour to source the goods from the vicinity of the crisis area. Listening to the community is crucial: families, for example, often want their children’s education to continue as soon as the basic needs for survival have been met.
4. Coordination through cooperation.
No organisation can be everywhere simultaneously. During major catastrophes, coordination within the international community is a crucial element. Organizations involve themselves based on their specific expertise and area knowledge. FCA often takes part in training efforts and leads related cooperation projects. Global coordination of aid allows everyone to track what aid is available, where it is and who is getting it. It can also help in identifying areas still without aid and missing categories of aid.
5. Politics can complicate humanitarianism.
Conflicts and political disputes hamper the delivery of emergency aid. The UN has thus passed a resolution calling for sanctions to be enacted in a way that does not block humanitarian aid. A host of problems may arise from closing banks or blocking money transfers due to sanctions. And things like roadblocks can also physically prevent the aid from reaching its destination in its destination.
6. Does “all the money just go to the warlords?” No.
Aid organizations are professional institutions. They closely monitor the use of their funds and the related cash flows and apply anti-corruption measures to their own activities, as well as those of partners and subcontractors. In many fragile countries, corruption is an ever-present problem. This also affects the humanitarian aid sector, and corruption cases are uncovered from time to time. However, the discovery of misuse also serves as a sign that the controls are working.
7. It’s not always possible to deliver aid.
Aid agencies, which often work in difficult circumstances, have prepared for a wide range of situations and threats. However, sometimes the situation can be so life-threatening that sending personnel to a given situation simply isn’t safe. Various armed groups in conflict zones increasingly view aid workers as a target, and problems also arise, for example, when authorities insist on distributing aid to their favoured recipients or demand that some of the supplies are given to soldiers. Even in these situations, organisations constantly negotiate to ensure that aid is distributed following the principles of humanitarian aid.
8. FCA’s disaster relief fund prepares for the unexpected.
Finn Church Aid not only raises funds for individual crises, but also maintains an ongoing collection for conflicts in general. Our disaster relief fund enables us to respond to acute emergencies. Money can be immediately released when funds are needed quickly and in a flexible manner. It can also help in situations that do not mobilise donors straight away in large numbers.
9. Emergency aid is needed both for acute disasters and long-term crises.
The need for emergency aid can be triggered by an acute disaster, such as an outbreak of war or a sudden natural disaster, or by a protracted, escalating crisis, such as a famine-inducing drought. Slow-onset disasters are often more complex and thus much more expensive to deal with, but they do not usually attract donor attention on the same scale as, for example, a sudden earthquake. The criteria for supplying emergency aid are nevertheless always the same: those who need aid shall receive it.
10. Not every crisis is in the news.
The media is not always the best barometer for need of aid. For example, while it is understandable that the war in Ukraine features heavily in the headlines, many other protracted situations, such as the prolonged drought in East Africa, have been overshadowed by the events of the day. A crisis must usually ferment for a long time before it catches media attention. A famine being declared, for example, is more likely to feature in the news than the threat of a famine.
+1. Local actors are in a key role for a successful FCA response.
People from and living in the affected area are the best guides to their own environment and networks. We do not believe it is sufficient for local staff and partners to purely offer advice and implementation for our decisions; they must also be involved in the decision-making process. FCA country offices are run by national staff, and in many aid areas, FCA works with or supports local partner organisations.
Sources: interviews with Merja Färm, FCA’s humanitarian advocacy expert, and Jan De Waegemaeker, humanitarian aid expert.
Text: Anne Salomäki Translation to English: Tatu Ahponen Illustration: Carla Ladau
Mother was injured in a rocket attack, father has spent a year in the army, and the children are missing the carefree life. A year of war has put an emotional strain on the Starodub family, just like many Ukrainian famillies. This year, they’re wishing for ordinary life without the sound of air-raid sirens.
MARIA, 10, concentrates on the image in the mirror, spreading violet eyeshadow on her eyelids. Mother Oksana sit next to her, watching her daughter with a horrified expression on her face.
In mid-January in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, the Starodub family is celebrating New Year according to the Julian calendar. The children of the neighbourhood go from door to door singing, and they’re rewarded with sweets and small coins.
Maria gives her mother a grin and wonders how many sweets she’ll be able to collect tonight. The makeup has to be impressive, as children go singing dressed in colourful scarfs and flower headbands.
On the surface, everything seems normal; but in reality, nothing is. It’s lucky for Maria and her brother Kyryl to be able to enjoy both the presence of their father as well as their mother’s cooking today. The past year has been painful for the family.
Chernihiv was under heavy fire
Ominous. That’s the word Oksana uses to describe the morning of 6 March 2022. Russia’s attack on Ukraine had lasted for a couple of weeks, and Chernihiv was under heavy fire.
In the morning Oksana was volunteering at the school where she teaches Ukrainian. Her husband Mykola had a career in the food industry, and he had enlisted in the regional forces of the Ukrainian army.
Around 5pm, Oksana ordered the children to go to the windowless hallway, the safest place in their home, where she and the children had slept on the floor every night ever since the attack began. Oksana was suffering from fever and resting in the bedroom of the dark house. She was on the phone to her husband when the strike hit. The windows exploded, and objects were flying around.
“I realised something happened to my legs. I was in shock. I was throwing stuff off my legs and dragged myself to my children,” Oksana describes.
“I could instantly tell that mum wasn’t alright. There was a lot of blood. Her hip had fractured,” Kyryl, 15, relates and recalls how he and her little sister bandaged the wound with a pony-patterned jumper. Mykola, left on the phone, understood the situation immediately and started to organise transportation for his wife together with other soldiers.
The entire family still remembers how heartbreakingly Maria cried that night.
In January 2023, the school Oksana Starodub works as teacher in Chernihiv is in sub-zero degrees. Oksana is teaching her students remotely and all the books in from the school library have been stored in plastic bags to keep them dry. PHOTO: ANTTI YRJÖNEN / FCA
Children need special attention
In war, children see and hear things they never should have to experience at such a young age.
In the Starodub family, the events are discussed openly to ensure that the children aren’t left alone with their thoughts. Maria particularly has been reacting to the events afterwards. Oksana says that so far, the family hasn’t needed help from a psychologist, but it’s something they might in the future.
The adults haven’t been able to avoid trauma either. Oksana recalls how, after her injury she layin a hospital bed on the fifth floor listening to bombings.
“The nurses rushed to the bomb shelter and told us patients to pray. The windows of the hospital were clinking,” she remembers with agony in her eyes.
In the middle of a crisis, the human mind yearns for routines and the feeling of normality; and the Starodub family has tried to cherish those moments during the exceptional year. Last summer, daughter Maria took part in summer clubs organised by Finn Church Aid and its local partner organisation DOCCU.
“It was wonderful,” she exclaims. “We were watching videos and doing activities together. I liked boardgames the most. Whilst playing them I met a girl who’s since become a good friend.”
The clubs were organised in July and August, and the children were also offered psychosocial support. Maria liked the clubs so much she attended them the whole summer.
A rocket strike broke the windows
Russian forces withdrew from the Chernihiv area in late March and early April 2022. But in January 2023, bombed buildings, weekly air raid alerts and constant lack of electricity still remind people of the horrors of last spring.
Oksana’s school is now unheated. The windows, broken in a rocket strike, have already been fixed, but faults in the heating system keep the school in sub-zero temperatures. The walls have holes due to shelling. Oksana does her teaching remotely.
“I would love to get back to school, to my own blackboard, to see the children laughing,” she tells, wiping the corners of her eyes.
She says she returned to teaching in August after her legs had been operated on and she was able to start moving again.
“Then I met some of my students who’d graduated in the spring. I noticed that 9th-graders had become adults in just six months. War does that to children.”
According to Oksana, returning to teaching has been an empowering experience. She talks about the frontline of education and how important it is for the future of Ukrainians. She says that the war has increased the interest of children and adolescents in the history and cultural traditions of Ukraine. That warms the heart of a Ukrainian teacher.
“When the war ends, I want to be home raising my children”
On the evening of 13 January, there’s plenty going on in the Starodub family kitchen. In the old Orthodox tradition, the day is first and foremost the celebration of Saint Basil the Great. The saint protects communities and the most vulnerable.
Mykola has a four-day vacation from the army. Every now and then Maria receives kisses from her father, to whom she presents her haul of sweets while singing. Kyryl is planning a chess game between the men of the house andstrokes the family’s cat Lord, who’s found a spot in the warmth of the kitchen radiator.
Oksana is frying Ukrainian pancakes to be filled with cottage cheese and dried fruit. There are plenty of familiar things for Finns on the table: these are stuffed cabbage leaves, that resemble a rosolli, and a pie that tastes like liver casserole.
There’s also kutia, a traditional Ukrainian treat for Christmas and new year, made from barley groats, raisins, nuts, and honey. On the day of Saint Basil the Great, there must be pork on the table, as that is believed to bring prosperity to the family.
Mykola eyes his wife and children warmly, with a faint and mysterious smile on his face.
“What we wish from the new year is winning the war and prosperity for Ukraine. When the war ends, I want to be home raising my children. I want an ordinary life without air raid alerts,” he tells.
The children also bring up very normal dreams. Last summer they couldn’t go swimming, because the beach in their town was said to be mined. Maria also dreams of travelling within her home country and seeing all the places she’s read about.
The conversation pauses when the doorbell rings. Another group of children dressed up in traditional costume sings at the door. As they leave, the children wish the family all the best: health, peace, and good times together.
All the best is needed, indeed; Oksana and Mykola have heavy hearts knowing the war will rage on, and Mykola has been transferred closer to the frontline.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Kuvat: Antti Yrjönen
FCA focuses on education and psychosocial support
The work of Finn Church Aid began in Ukraine in February 2022 as emergency aid, which was delivered in co-operation with the Hungarian partner organisation Hungarian Interchurch Aid. Later, Finn Church Aid established its own country office in Ukraine and started working on education in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine. In collaboration with partner organisations, aid is delivered to other parts of Ukraine as well.
Almost 6 000 children took part in Finn Church Aid’s summer clubs. On top of this, approximately 530 teachers have been provided with training, and 70 teachers and school psychologists have participated in psychosocial support training.
A joint 14-million project by FCA, international Save the Children, People in Need, and War Child, funded by the EU, is set to reach 45 000 children during 2023. As part of the project, schools damaged by the war are repaired, psychosocial support is provided, and teachers are trained.
“I am already eager to try out all these new techniques in practice” – 71 Ukrainian teachers and psychologists honed their skills on how to deal with trauma
School is an important meeting place where children can get help dealing with issues that weigh on their minds. That’s why we train Ukrainian teachers and school psychologists on psychosocial skills.
71 TEACHERS and school psychologists received training on mental health and psychosocial skills in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine. Finn Church Aid organised the training in cooperation with the local educational authorities.
The trainer was the experienced psychologist, consultant Koen Sevenants. The two-day training included lectures, discussions, role-plays and group work. The goal was to strengthen the readiness of staff working in Ukrainian schools to deal with children and young people who have had to go through traumatic experiences due to the ongoing war.
“What is valuable here is that we work with a coach who is an understanding person with experience internationally from working with people, particularly children, of different backgrounds who have gone through various traumatic events,” explains psychologist Liudmyla Lozova, who participated in the training.
The training covered the effects of trauma on children and adults. Trained teachers and school psychologists were introduced to different tools, which they can later use in their own work.
”The information is conveyed in a manner that’s very easy to perceive. I am already eager to try all these new techniques out in practice,” Lozova continues and says that she has already found similar trainings useful in her own work.
Psychologist Iryna Lisovetska says that she has been working as a volunteer psychologist ever since conflict started in the Donbass region in 2014. She has already worked with, for example, internally displaced children, soldiers and the families of fallen military personnel.
”Now, having gone through the war personally, having spent some time under shelling and bombardments, we empathise with those people we are assisting much better. Both adults and children,” Lisovetska reflects.
She says that she participated in the training because she believes that the new skills will be useful later in her work of responding to the trauma created by the ongoing war.
Missile strikes hit the area during the training
Education in emergencies is at the core of FCA’s work. Children and young people who live in the middle of conflicts benefit from the continuity and sense of belonging that schools bring to their everyday life.
School is also an important meeting place, where children can find support from adults and seek help in dealing with stressful issues. That is why it is important that school staff – such as teachers and psychologists – have adequate tools to address trauma.
Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine, who followed the training on site, says that based on the feedback, the participants were very satisfied with the training and its contents.
“The atmosphere was good, and the feedback was 99 percent positive. We are still going through the feedback, but at first glance the participants seem very satisfied,” he said.
The invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and has lasted for more than four months. There are currently no Russian troops in the Chernihiv area, but Russia carried out missile strikes in the area during the training.
“One participant had to leave the training in tears because her home was on fire. In addition, the home of one local staff member from FCA was damaged in the attack in the nearby Desna area,” Georis describes.
Finn Church Aid and the city of Chernihiv recently signed a cooperation agreement, thanks to which educational work can continue in the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine. In the next phase of the education response work, summer activities, such as sports, arts and games, will be organised for up to 15.000 children in the area. For this FCA has ensured that teachers will be trained to also respond to children who have further need of psychosocial support.
According to Ukrainian estimates, bombings have destroyed and damaged more than 1,800 schools. The students are currently on summer vacation, but classes are supposed to start again in September.
“Most mothers are here alone with their children” — Ukrainian teacher Erika Pavliuk already misses her blackboard, but first she helps refugees staying at the school
When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuk sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school. Pavliuk helps internally displaced people who’ve fled other parts of Ukraine by offering a bed, warmth, and food.
“I HEARD the news from my husband. He was surfing on the internet and said the words that will always play in my head: our country has been attacked.”
English teacher Erika Pavliuk sits in her empty classroom in Berehove in eastern Ukraine, near the border with Hungary, and runs over the events of an early Thursday morning. It was 24 February 2022, and Russia had begun a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Pavliuk says that she, in disbelief, dismissed the news at first. The family members continued with morning routines in uncertainty. Their 5-year-old daughter was taken to daycare, and unaware of what was really happening, Pavliuk headed to her workplace in the local school.
In the first class of the day, the teacher was standing in front of her 12-year-old pupils in the classroom. The atmosphere was dreary.
“I remember a boy sitting in class looking really pale. His nose started to bleed. I told the pupils to put their books aside and decided to just talk about what the children were most worried about. Practically, my pupils were afraid of being killed soon,” Pavliuk recalls.
After the first class on Thursday, the school received instructions from authorities. Teaching had to be suspended and all pupils were to be sent home.
“The daycare of my daughter also rang me to say that she must be picked up immediately. As soon as I arrived, the children had already been evacuated from the building. They were waiting for their parents outside, and at that moment nobody knew what would happen next.”
A few of weeks later, we already know a little more about what would happen in the coming months. In March, Russia would carry out missile strikes against the most strategically important targets in western Ukraine as well, but the most destructive battles would take place elsewhere in the country.
In early April, already four million Ukrainian refugees would have crossed the border to neighbouring countries. On top of this, western Ukraine would receive an immense number of internally displaced people.
From a teacher to a volunteer
As the war went on, Pavliuk, her colleagues, and other residents of the small town of Berehove began to understand the situation. Refugees from other parts of Ukraine started to arrive at the school already at the end of February.
In a matter of days, the entire town of Berehove set out to help those fleeing war. The teachers, school cooks, and other members of staff started volunteering. Pavliuk and her colleagues went through donations, organised things on behalf of refugees arriving at the centre, and helped them with whatever issues they might face.
The days were long for everyone, and there was no time for days off. Pavliuk says that time went by fast.
“The energy just came from somewhere. People needed help. I didn’t feel tired during the day, but when I went home, I fell asleep immediately when my head hit the pillow.”
The school soon became an important hub, as it was possible to prepare food for large crowds in its big kitchen. In normal times, 300 pupils go to the school.
“During the first days, some refugees only stayed at the shelter for a few hours, took a shower, and ate something. After that, they continued towards the border. We didn’t know what direction the situation would take,” Pavliuk says.
The school can accommodate approximately 80 refugees in bunk beds in the rooms previously used by school students. As the fighting dragged on, some of the refugees stayed at the shelter for weeks. Hungarian Interchurch Aid, a partner organisation of Finn Church Aid, provided the kitchen with new refrigeration equipment, numerous food deliveries, and a washing machine for the utility room.
Fathers stay on the front line
As a volunteer, Pavliuk has heard stories from various families fleeing fighting, and she feels moved recalling them. Many of those who’ve stayed at the shelter for longer don’t intend to cross the border to Hungary unless they absolutely have to. Many plan on returning home or at least as close to it as possible. Pavliuk understands them.
“Every morning I wake up feeling thankful for having had a peaceful night here (in western Ukraine). I have grown up here, I was born here, my parents and many generations before them have lived here. I can’t even begin to imagine leaving my home and my town just because some aggressor forces me to do so.”
Pavliuk deems witnessing the everyday life of mothers and children at the shelter particularly difficult.
“Most of the mothers are here alone with their children. Normally they live closely together with their husbands, and now the men are in the army. My heart hurts just thinking about them having to look after their children in a place they don’t really know. There are eight people living in each room, and they don’t know these people, even if now they’re slowly getting to know each other.”
Pavliuk sees a silver lining in the crisis: she says that the war and the consequential refugee crisis have made people work together in unprecedented ways. Just like Pavliuk, many people living in the border town of Berehove are citizens of two countries and cultures, and cohabitation hasn’t always been easy.
“I’m Hungarian by nationality, but I’ve lived on the Ukrainian side all my life, so I’m also Ukrainian. There have been disagreements between Hungarians and Ukrainians as well as other minorities in this area. I feel like things are no longer like that.”
Remote teaching started after pausing for weeks
Pavliuk says that before the war, people in her school were already looking forward to returning to business as usual after a long pandemic. Due to the war, the state of emergency in the school has continued. Already knowing how to teach and study remotely came in handy in late March, when the pupils in Berehove returned to remote teaching after a three-week break.
The children at the refugee shelter have been able to sign up for classes in Ukrainian schools in the town or continue studying with their own classes if their schools have been able to provide teaching. The children log in on classes in the computer classroom at the shelter.
Pavliuk’s Hungarian-speaking pupils stayed at home, as their school was still full of refugees. During the day, Pavliuk works at the shelter, and in the evenings, she prepares her English classes for the following day. She seems moved when she talks about her 12 to 18-year-old students.
“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.”
She already knows that some pupils have fled from Ukraine to Hungary and they won’t be coming back to her classes. Pavliuk takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom. What is her biggest wish?
“To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”